Connecting Ancient Art with Modern Audiences Via Technology

An illustration of a woman holding a laptop.

Image credit: Shutterstock

Even in historical art, technology is never very far away. As part of the de Young’s “Teotihuacan: City of Water, City of Fire” exhibition, for example, 14-year-old Minecraft aficionado Trevor Fox helped produce a digital map that lets visitors virtually walk through the city.

In fact, the de Young has several exhibitions running right now that use technology and a modern sensibility to connect visitors to history. In addition to “Teotihuacan,” the recent reinstallation of the Art of the Americas gallery features Native American art both old and new, courtesy of donations from area businessman Thom Weisel. “The Maori Portraits” brings some of the most prominent historical Maori leaders to modern audiences who may not have met them. And “The Propeller Group: The Living Need Light, the Dead Need Music” makes multicultural funerary practices accessible via film.

Teotihuacan: City of Water, City of Fire
September 30, 2017 – February 11, 2018

The Minecraft tour of the ancient city of Teotihuacan may be the most prominent method used by an exhibit to really grab its audience. Minecraft, released in 2011 to huge success, has been used to design a walkthrough of the Teotihuacan to give museum-goers a sense of what it was like, right down to the pyramids and pathways.

Co-creator Trevor Fox is the son of Andrew Fox, de Young’s senior web and interactive developer. Together they spent more than a year putting together the walkthrough using data from archaeological maps, aerial and satellite photographs, and Google Street View images.

Reinstallation of the Art of the Americas Galleries
August 19, 2017 – March 25, 2018

It doesn’t use Minecraft, but the Art of the Americas galleries do provide a modern look at the more than 200 art pieces that make up the Weisel Family Collection. From 11th century Mimbres ceramics to 19th century Navajo weavings (often created as experiments with new methods and technologies as they became available), visitors can see a variety of styles and time periods, coming away with a real sense of how these art forms have developed over time. In fact, much of the ancient art is displayed right alongside the more modern pieces to provide context and a look at how the technologies used to make them have changed.

The Maori Portraits: Gottfried Lindauer’s New Zealand
September 9, 2017 – April 1, 2018

Gottfried Lindauer, one of New Zealand’s most prolific portrait artists, is the mind behind the work in this exhibition, which features some of the most important Maori ancestors and their stories. The 31 rangatira, or “men and women of rank,” connect viewers from a variety of cultures with these historical people painted between 1874-1903. Lindauer worked primarily from photos, incorporating modern technology into the more traditional portrait format.

The Propeller Group: The Living Need Light, the Dead Need Music
July 1, 2017 – June 30, 2018

New to the de Young, the Propeller Group film finds connections between southern Vietnamese and southern American funeral traditions. Real funeral rituals are documented as well as staged performances to celebrate life, death, and the transformation of spirit. The film is available alongside funerary artifacts and is located near other related exhibits, including the de Young’s Southeast Asia holdings and its African American art. The newer technology of film is used to bridge the gap between a modern viewer and these ancient rites.

Whether through video games, new art techniques, or film, technology can be used to bring more meaning and understanding to a variety of art.


About Alex Holt

I am a local artist from Brooklyn, NY. I love art, design, books, photography, gardening and blogging.
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